Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my last blog post was October 23, 2014. I mean, I knew 2014 was a hectic, difficult year, but I didn't realize I had gone quite so quiet. Last week, while browsing on Twitter, I discovered #yourturnchallenge, and it felt like the right time for me to commit to seven straight days of blogging. At least for now, I'm back.

I recently finished the book, A Deadly Wandering, and decided to make my book review my first post in this blogging project. 

Coincidentally, I had recently watched a documentary by Werner Herzog on distracted driving. When I finally started this book, I had no idea there was any connection between Herzog's film and the story in this book. As soon as I started reading Reggie's story, I knew this was the same guy. 

Reggie crossed the center line early one morning back in 2006, causing the death of two scientists who were beloved fathers and husbands. Although not immediately apparent to anyone, the cause of the accident had been Reggie texting while driving. 

I was half expecting a book difficult to plod through, because I read more fiction than non-fiction, and the fiction I read tends to require less mental energy. However, I found "A Deadly Wandering" to be both fascinating and easy to read. I confess I am in the group of people who have texted while driving, and so this is an extremely timely topic not only for myself, but for our society in general.

Some excerpts from pp 215-216:
In the same way we crave food, we crave connection. Not just for its own sake, but because connection is essential for survival. It helps us form networks, understand sources of opportunity or threat, create alliances, fight enemies. It is primal. ... Now come ultra-powerful devices that provide such easy communication that they can, if we're not careful, use our social survival skills against us. ... "We use stone-age brains with space-age technology, and that can lead to trouble." ... Our tech tools let us be "hyper-social," ... which has many benefits, and also costs.
There is much information in this book about attention, and what it allows us to do, and what happens to our brain when we overtax our mental capacities. Anyone older than age 30 has seen the huge influx of demands on our attention over the past 10-15 years. I remember when I was in college. We didn't even have a television in our dorm room. Now, students are attending to twitter, instagram, tumblr, Facebook, email, text messages, Youtube, YikYak, Netflix, video games, and more. And that doesn't include the actual humans in the environment, or less demanding things like books, journals, pencils, reflection, quiet.

As for my own experiences with distracted driving, before I read this book, I had formulated the following motto for myself in regard to texting and driving. "Hands on the road. Eyes on the wheel." Imagine my surprise when my "original" thought turned out to be words from the 1970 Doors' song, Roadhouse Blues.

Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Yeah, we're goin' to the Roadhouse 
We're gonna have a real 
Good time 

Imagine, if you will, my further surprise when the author reported that the issue with texting and driving isn't my hands or my eyes, but my BRAIN. Having had five children nearly all at once (jk), I feel like I had to get really good at toggling between tasks if I were going to be an effective mother. My kids, like most, had a million questions, and I seemed to feel that it was my responsibility to answer every single question. Thoroughly. In order. Correctly. And I think having to do that helped me to get good at switching between tasks, but my brain is still a human brain and has pretty much the same limitations and capabilities regarding attention.

The story about Reggie Shaw in this book is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. By choosing to do a dangerous activity like texting and driving, he irrevocably changed the lives of the families of the men who were killed in the accident, his own family, the life of the farrier who actually hit the other car, and all of the people involved in the investigation, prosecution and defense. To his credit, Reggie used his authentic grief and remorse to fuel a journey of speaking to young people about the incredible dangers of texting and driving.

I'm encouraged to see that more and more cities and states are passing laws about texting, and even about using phones while driving. Richtel has written a timely, and important "tale of tragedy and redemption in the age of attention" and I highly recommend it to everyone who carries around a cell phone.

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